I attended a parenting course many years ago and apart from the mind-numbing rigidity of the rules-based strategy they espoused, I came away with a bit of advice that has stuck with me through the years.
‘If you want happy kids, focus on creating a happy marriage.’
It’s simple and yes, a little simplistic, but there is a gold thread of truth in this statement.
There are no, one-size fits all formulas, or magic tricks to raising happy healthy kids. We instinctively know that, yet strangely we often believe everyone else seems to have found the solution. In parenting, perhaps more than any other role in life, we buy into playing the comparison game to excess. From the moment a baby is born, many parents start the endless measuring, comparing and judging as to whether the child is ahead or behind in achieving those ‘vital’ milestones of development. Parents who play this game aspire for above average, will grudgingly accept ‘normal’ but are often left confused and dismayed with anything less than that. Somehow, a parent’s identity, value and effectiveness is linked to this freshly-hatched little person who, must prove to the world in each stage of life, that we’ve ‘done good’ in raising them.
Some of us feel secret relief when another parent confesses to having a troubled teen. At least ours isn’t that bad! We can feel a niggling shame and guilt when our child is the one in trouble at school most days. We try hard to duck and weave while other parents’ eyes are on us as we rush through the school carpark.
I have experienced all those emotions if I’m to be honest. In our family we ranged from having a child who was the ‘teacher’s pet,’ the ‘good kid,’ to having teachers lining up in the foyer of the school wanting to vent at me as they battled to deal with our ‘class clown, always in detention,’ child. We also had a child who quietly slipped on through in his usual, ‘don’t notice me, I don’t want to make any waves,’ style.
At the time my reactions probably landed somewhere between humiliation and smug satisfaction, but as realists we came to the conclusion that we couldn’t take credit for the ‘teacher’s pet’ and avoid taking responsibility for the one who made the teachers work harder to earn their money every day.
I look back now and know that the bigger issue for us as parents was to ensure our children knew they were loved, accepted, treasured and respected. Why? That’s what my husband and I wanted for us in our relationship too. We sought to honour their unique personalities and ways of seeing and dealing with the world. Our job was not to create clones, not crush, but shape their uniqueness, helping them deal with the situations where they didn’t always find safe landings.
We sought and still do, despite major and minor hiccups, (’cause that’s life) to provide a loving safe space, where we as a couple intentionally invest in our shared relationship. Our focus has been on ‘fighting’ to keep it as healthy as possible in every season and stage of our lives together. For the most part, we’ve been very happily married and we hold no ‘smug satisfaction’ in that at all. One of life’s miracles is ‘to have and to hold until death do us part.’ Sometimes it’s just not possible.
Have our children always been happy? Only they can answer that one. I, one day, want to be brave enough to ask them how our marriage ‘for better or for worse,’ impacted them as they grew.
But what we have learned over time is to quit playing the comparison game and focus on building and maintaining a happy, healthy partnership as a couple. We consider our adult children to be dear friends and companions in life. We enjoy their unique personalities and perspectives, we laugh together, face challenges together, listen to each other and learn from each other. We are happy, together.
James 2:13 ‘Mercy triumphs over judgement.’